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Spear Thistle

Cirsium vulgare

Please keep in mind that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowner's consent and care should be taken at all times not to damage wild plants. Wild plants should never be picked for pleasure and some plants are protected by law.
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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Asteraceae (Daisy)
Also in this family:
Alpine Blue Sow-thistle, Alpine Cotula, Alpine Fleabane, Alpine Saw-wort, Annual Ragweed, Annual Sunflower, Argentine Fleabane, Autumn Hawkbit, Autumn Oxeye, Beaked Hawksbeard, Beggarticks, Bilbao Fleabane, Black Knapweed, Black-eyed Susan, Blanketflower, Blue Fleabane, Blue Globe-thistle, Bristly Oxtongue, Broad-leaved Cudweed, Broad-leaved Ragwort, Brown Knapweed, Butterbur, Buttonweed, Cabbage Thistle, Canadian Fleabane, Canadian Goldenrod, Carline Thistle, Chalk Knapweed, Chamois Ragwort, Changing Michaelmas Daisy, Chicory, Chinese Mugwort, Chinese Ragwort, Coltsfoot, Common Blue Sow-thistle, Common Cat's-ear, Common Cudweed, Common Daisy, Common Dandelion, Common Fleabane, Common Goldenrod, Common Groundsel, Common Michaelmas Daisy, Common Mugwort, Common Ragwort, Common Wormwood, Coneflower, Confused Michaelmas Daisy, Corn Chamomile, Corn Marigold, Cornflower, Cotton Thistle, Cottonweed, Creeping Thistle, Daisy Bush, Dwarf Cudweed, Dwarf Thistle, Early Goldenrod, Eastern Groundsel, Eastern Leopardsbane, Elecampane, English Hawkweed, Fen Ragwort, Feverfew, Field Fleawort, Field Wormwood, Fox and Cubs, French Tarragon, Gallant Soldier, Garden Lettuce, Giant Butterbur, Glabrous-headed Hawkweed, Glandular Globe-thistle, Glaucous Michaelmas Daisy, Globe Artichoke, Globe-thistle, Goat's Beard, Golden Ragwort, Golden Samphire, Goldilocks Aster, Grass-leaved Goldenrod, Great Lettuce, Greater Burdock, Greater Knapweed, Grey-headed Hawkweed, Guernsey Fleabane, Hairless Blue Sow-thistle, Hairless Leptinella, Hairy Michaelmas Daisy, Harpur Crewe's Leopardsbane, Hawkweed Oxtongue, Heath Cudweed, Heath Groundsel, Hemp Agrimony, Highland Cudweed, Hoary Mugwort, Hoary Ragwort, Hybrid Knapweed, Intermediate Burdock, Irish Fleabane, Jersey Cudweed, Jerusalem Artichoke, Lance-leaved Hawkweed, Lavender-cotton, Leafless Hawksbeard, Least Lettuce, Leopardplant, Leopardsbane, Leptinella, Lesser Burdock, Lesser Hawkbit, Lesser Sunflower, London Bur-marigold, Magellan Ragwort, Marsh Cudweed, Marsh Hawksbeard, Marsh Ragwort, Marsh Sow-thistle, Marsh Thistle, Meadow Thistle, Melancholy Thistle, Mexican Fleabane, Milk Thistle, Mountain Everlasting, Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Musk Thistle, Narrow-leaved Cudweed, Narrow-leaved Hawkweed, Narrow-leaved Michaelmas Daisy, Narrow-leaved Ragwort, New England Hawkweed, New Zealand Holly, Nipplewort, Nodding Bur-marigold, Northern Hawksbeard, Norwegian Mugwort, Oxeye Daisy, Oxford Ragwort, Pearly Everlasting, Perennial Cornflower, Perennial Ragweed, Perennial Sow-thistle, Perennial Sunflower, Pineapple Mayweed, Plantain-leaved Leopardsbane, Ploughman's Spikenard, Plymouth Thistle, Pontic Blue Sow-thistle, Pot Marigold, Prickly Lettuce, Prickly Sow-thistle, Purple Coltsfoot, Rayed Tansy, Red Star Thistle, Red-seeded Dandelion, Red-tipped Cudweed, Robin's Plantain, Roman Chamomile, Rough Cocklebur, Rough Hawkbit, Rough Hawksbeard, Russian Lettuce, Safflower, Salsify, Saw-wort, Scented Mayweed, Scentless Mayweed, Sea Aster, Sea Mayweed, Sea Wormwood, Seaside Daisy, Shaggy Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Shaggy Soldier, Shasta Daisy, Shetland Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Shrub Ragwort, Sicilian Chamomile, Silver Ragwort, Slender Mugwort, Slender Thistle, Small Cudweed, Small Fleabane, Smooth Cat's-ear, Smooth Hawksbeard, Smooth Sow-thistle, Sneezeweed, Sneezewort, Spotted Cat's-ear, Spotted Hawkweed, Sticky Groundsel, Stinking Chamomile, Stinking Hawksbeard, Tall Fleabane, Tall Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Tansy, Thin-leaved Sunflower, Trifid Bur-marigold, Tuberous Thistle, Tyneside Leopardplant, Viper's Grass, Wall Lettuce, Welsh Groundsel, Welted Thistle, White Butterbur, White Buttons, Willdenow's Leopardsbane, Winter Heliotrope, Wood Burdock, Wood Ragwort, Woody Fleabane, Woolly Thistle, Yarrow, Yellow Chamomile, Yellow Fox and Cubs, Yellow Oxeye, Yellow Star Thistle, Yellow Thistle, York Groundsel
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
150 centimetres tall
Cliffs, ditches, fields, gardens, grassland, heathland, meadows, moorland, mountains, roadsides, sand dunes, scrub, sea cliffs, seaside, wasteland, waterside.

Purple, many petals
Solitary purple flower with green-tipped spines, up to 4cm. White flowers are rare.
A flat achene (seed) with a fluffy tuft of white hairs attached at one end (a.k.a. the pappus).
Sharp and prickly, dark green, lobed, pinnate leaves. The leaves are alternate along the stems.
Other Names:
Bank Thistle, Bell Thistle, Bird Thistle, Black Thistle, Blue Thistle, Boar Thistle, Bull Thistle, Bur Thistle, Button Thistle, Common Thistle, Donkey Thistle, Fuller's Thistle, Horse Thistle, Plume Thistle, Scotch Thistle, Scottish Thistle.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Cirsium vulgare, also known as spear thistle, is a biennial or short-lived perennial herb native to Europe, Asia and North Africa. It is typically found in grassland, meadows, and disturbed areas such as roadsides and pastures. The plant has a tall, spiky stem and produces large, pink or purple flower heads. Like other thistles, it is considered a weed and invasive in many countries. It can outcompete native vegetation and reduce forage for livestock. Control methods include mechanical removal, grazing, and the use of herbicides. It has been used traditionally for medicinal purposes, such as for treating liver and gallbladder complaints. Additionally, the stem and roots of the plant can be eaten and used as a vegetable.


Spear Thistle (Cirsium vulgare) is a wildflower that is commonly found throughout Europe and parts of Asia and North America. Despite its prickly appearance, this plant has a long history of use in both traditional medicine and as a source of food for wildlife.

The Spear Thistle is a biennial plant that can grow up to six feet tall. It is easily recognized by its large, spiky leaves and vibrant purple flowers that bloom in the summer. The plant has a deep taproot, which helps it to survive in harsh and dry conditions, making it a common sight in fields and along roadsides.

In traditional medicine, the leaves and roots of the Spear Thistle have been used to treat a variety of ailments. The plant is believed to have anti-inflammatory, diuretic, and liver-protective properties. In some cultures, the leaves were used to make a tea that was believed to help with digestive issues, and the roots were used to treat liver problems.

Despite its prickly appearance, the Spear Thistle is a valuable source of food for wildlife, particularly for birds. The seeds of the plant are rich in oil, making them an important source of energy for many species of birds. Additionally, the nectar of the flowers attracts pollinators such as bees and butterflies, helping to support the local ecosystem.

However, the Spear Thistle is also considered to be a nuisance weed in many parts of the world. It can quickly spread and overtake other plants, making it difficult for farmers to grow crops. In some areas, control measures such as chemical herbicides or manual removal are used to keep the plant under control.

The Spear Thistle is a fascinating plant that has a rich history of use in traditional medicine and as a source of food for wildlife. Despite its prickly appearance, it is a valuable component of the ecosystem and provides important benefits to both humans and wildlife. However, it is also important to manage the plant to prevent it from becoming a nuisance weed.

In addition to its medicinal and ecological value, the Spear Thistle also has a long history of cultural significance. In ancient times, the plant was associated with bravery and was believed to protect against evil spirits. In Scotland, the plant has been adopted as the national emblem and is a symbol of strength and resilience.

In modern times, the Spear Thistle has been used as an ornamental plant, particularly in wildflower gardens and meadows. Its striking appearance and vibrant purple flowers make it a popular choice for landscaping, and it can be used to create a natural and rustic look in outdoor spaces.

The Spear Thistle is also a popular subject for artists and photographers, who are drawn to its unique appearance and the way that it interacts with the surrounding landscape. Whether viewed up close or from a distance, the plant never fails to capture the imagination with its combination of beauty and toughness.

Despite its many benefits, it is important to remember that the Spear Thistle is also a plant that can cause injury if handled improperly. Its spiky leaves and stems are covered in sharp, needle-like prickles that can cause discomfort if touched. When working with or near the plant, it is important to wear protective clothing and use caution to avoid injury.

The Spear Thistle is a truly remarkable plant that has a rich history of use, both as a medicinal herb and as a source of food for wildlife. Whether viewed from a cultural, ecological, or ornamental perspective, the plant is a fascinating example of nature's beauty and resilience, and it continues to capture the imagination of people all over the world.

Furthermore, the Spear Thistle is a valuable source of nutrition for livestock, particularly for grazing animals such as cattle and sheep. In times of drought or when other food sources are scarce, the plant can provide an important source of nutrients, including protein, carbohydrates, and minerals.

However, the spiky leaves and stems of the plant can also be a challenge for farmers and livestock owners. The prickles can cause injury to animals, particularly to their mouths and eyes, and can reduce the value of wool and hides. For this reason, farmers and livestock owners often use control measures, such as fencing, to keep animals away from the plant.

The Spear Thistle is also of interest to conservationists and ecologists, who study its role in the ecosystem and its interactions with other species. The plant is an important nectar source for many pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and moths, and is also a host plant for several species of moths and butterflies.

In addition, the plant is of interest to botanists and plant taxonomists, who study its structure, growth habits, and genetics. Through their research, they are able to better understand the plant's evolution and its role in the ecosystem, as well as identify new uses for the plant, such as new medicinal properties or as a source of food for humans.

Overall, the Spear Thistle is a versatile and valuable plant that has a long and rich history of use and significance. Whether viewed from a cultural, ecological, or scientific perspective, the plant continues to play an important role in our lives and the world around us.

One interesting aspect of the Spear Thistle is its impact on human culture. In some regions, the plant has been seen as a symbol of toughness and resilience, reflecting the tough and spiky nature of the plant itself. On the other hand, in other regions, the plant has been seen as a nuisance weed, reflecting the challenges it poses to farmers and land managers.

This dichotomy is reflected in the different attitudes towards the plant that can be found throughout its range. In some regions, the plant is celebrated and valued for its cultural significance, while in others, it is aggressively controlled or eradicated. This variation highlights the important role that cultural attitudes play in shaping our relationship with the natural world.

Another important aspect of the Spear Thistle is its ecological significance. The plant plays an important role in the ecosystem, providing food and habitat for a wide range of species. In particular, the plant is an important nectar source for pollinators, and its seeds provide food for birds and other wildlife.

The importance of pollinators and other wildlife species to the ecosystem cannot be overstated. These species play a crucial role in maintaining biodiversity, supporting healthy ecosystems, and providing essential ecosystem services such as pollination and pest control.

In light of these benefits, conservationists and ecologists are working to protect and preserve the Spear Thistle and other species like it. Through their research, they aim to better understand the relationships between species and the ecological processes that sustain them, so that they can make informed decisions about conservation and management.

The Spear Thistle is a fascinating plant that has a rich and diverse history, cultural significance, and ecological importance. Whether viewed from a cultural, ecological, or scientific perspective, the plant provides a window into the complex and interrelated nature of our relationship with the natural world.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the unique adaptations of the Spear Thistle that allow it to thrive in a variety of environments. The plant's spiky leaves and stems are an effective defense against herbivores, which helps to protect the plant from being consumed by animals. The plant's deep taproot allows it to access water and nutrients from deep in the soil, making it well adapted to drought conditions.

The plant's long stem and tall stature also make it an effective competitor for light, which allows it to outcompete other plants in its area. These adaptations, along with its ability to produce large quantities of seeds, help the Spear Thistle to establish itself in new areas and spread quickly.

However, this ability to spread quickly and establish itself in new areas can also be a challenge. In some regions, the Spear Thistle is considered an invasive species, as it can outcompete native species and disrupt local ecosystems. In these cases, land managers and conservationists are working to control the spread of the plant and promote the growth of native species.

In conclusion, the Spear Thistle is a highly adaptable plant that is well suited to a variety of environments. Its unique adaptations and ability to spread quickly make it both a valuable and challenging species for those who are interested in understanding and managing the natural world. Whether viewed as a symbol of bravery, a nuisance weed, or a valuable source of food for wildlife, the Spear Thistle is a fascinating and complex species that continues to capture our attention and imagination.


Spear Thistles filmed in Chorley, Lancashire on the 9th July 2022.


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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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